the little guy

big dog small dog Dalmatian and Chihuahua

WARNING: THIS IS NOT MY TYPICAL SORT OF POST. IF YOU ARE EASILY OFFENDED … RUN.

I read the following in a blog post this past weekend (I’ve changed it a bit and not mentioned the writer’s name, because I actually don’t want to give them a bad rap):

Be careful how you treat the little guy. You never know when someone might get promoted or even eventually become your boss.

I came across this seemingly by chance, after several days of having had a certain train of thought, all of which culminated in an insatiable itch to get it all out in orderly form – hence, this post. It is my goal not let it devolve into a rant, while still saying something important (though likely controversial).

I shall not rant.

I shall not rant.

I shall not rant.

Ahh. OK. I’m feeling all Zen and able to begin.

You see, the problem I’ve been having lately is this notion of inequity between humans, based on position, current accomplishments, salary, number of Friends on Facebook or Followers on Twitter, being a Who’s Who, knowing Who’s Who, or other such nonsense.

Wait – let me refocus.

I shall not rant.

I shall not rant.

I shall not rant.

::breathe::

Much better.

First of all, why is “the little guy” little? Size is relative; that is, the size of a thing only has meaning by comparison. Is an elephant little or big? It all depends on if you are comparing it to an ant or the sun. So when we use terminology like “the little guy,” are we not in fact comparing him (or her) to ourselves, whom we view as “big” or important?

There is no shortage of blog posts, tweets and other sound bites on leadership, reminding leaders to be in some way benevolent and kind to “the little guy.” And, in and of itself, this is all well and good, I suppose. But I see a growing trend toward an inflated sense of self among “leaders,” where they perceive themselves as BIG and others as little.

“I AM the speaker and others listen to me.”

“I AM the author and others read what I have to say.”

I COMMAND the stage and others sit in the audience.”

I don’t want to be misunderstood.  I myself am an author.  I enjoy speaking, I have something important to say, and I’ve been paid to do so.  I’ve been on that stage. I’m not talking about the roles here, but about the attitude that creeps in – perhaps insidiously and over time – where personal value begins to be placed on these relative roles.

Not long ago, I contacted a fairly well-known author and motivational speaker. I will not discredit him by naming him or giving away too much; but a major tenet of his teachings is that everyone serves a vital purpose, that we all matter equally in the world. In one of his books, the author even invites the reader, if ever they were to run into one another out in the world, not to be afraid to approach him and talk, because he saw himself as just a regular guy like everyone else who would love to use his good fortune of being a little further down the road to help someone else.

So I took a chance, trusting that this author’s credo and invitation were authentic, and I emailed him personally, sharing a little bit about my dreams and goals as they related to what he taught. I even took a practical step suggested in his book, regarding taking risks with seemingly “untouchable” people. I did not ask him for any favor or for help of any sort. In short, he responded – with one sentence. There was no salutation:

Your email was received; unfortunately, I am unable to engage any further with you, due to the inherent inequity.

I politely thanked him for responding, but expressed that I was a bit confused by what he meant in his one-sentence reply.  I asked if, for the benefit of my full understanding, he might clarify what he meant by “the inherent inequity.” He replied (again with no salutation):

There is only one me and a million of you.

You can imagine that my interpretation of all of the seemingly wonderful ideals I had read in this man’s writings was drastically and irrevocably altered at that point.

Let’s look again at the blog post I quoted at the top:

Be careful how you treat the little guy. You never know when someone might get promoted or even eventually become your boss.

Did you notice the reason for being nice to “the little guy”? It is because, if you are not, it may negatively affect your own well-being at some point in the future. But what about being nice to the people around us, regardless of station, just because we are all human and inherently worth being nice to? Does it have to be about what I might gain (or what personal loss I may avoid) as the resident “big guy”?

Consider an author whose first book becomes a best seller. Once her book becomes known, she gets more and more “followers.” People think she is smart. She’s amazing. She’s terribly insightful. They RT her from dawn to dusk, because, after all, she has 400,000 other Followers, so what she has to say must be important.

But while this author was still “the little guy” – typing away unknown and alone in the night, perhaps eating canned tuna instead of caviar – wasn’t she just as smart, amazing and insightful? Didn’t she have something important inside of her to say before she finished the book – in truth, to have set into writing that book in the first place? Why is it, then, that we would have tended to ignore what she said when her Twitter following was 400, yet place great value on it (and her) only after her book gets out and she has 400,000 Followers?

Similarly, when I hear verbiage like “leverage the power of your network,” it is hard as a wordsmith not to hear the underlying meaning. Sure, the jargon sounds perfectly reasonable and professional; but doesn’t it just boil down to “use people if it accomplishes your goals”? And who are the people in our “network” that we will “leverage”? I can tell you, it won’t be “the little guy.” It will be “the big guy.” And how do we “leverage the big guy”? Words like pander, coddle and schmooze come to mind.

Again, I love to meet new people, including through social media. I enjoy the energy that comes from sharing interests, passions and information. I’m not talking about an action here. I’m talking about the attitude: I’m big and you’re little.

Don’t let yourself off the hook, just because you may not be an author, CEO or social media guru.

Perhaps you’re a small business owner or salaried worker, and you’ve been seeing the hourly staff as “the little guy.”

Maybe you’re a teacher who’s been viewing your students as “the little guy.”

Or maybe you’re a parent, treating your kids as “the little guy” – as if you are important, and they are not. As if your words and opinions have value, and theirs do not.

You’re the person with a naturally beautiful face or a sculpted body who has categorically deemed yourself better than “the little guy” who is less so. The first-class ticket holder who feels quite superior to “the little guy” in coach. The American who perceives anyone who isn’t as inherently “the little guy” and thus treats them poorly, even when traveling abroad.

Alas, I’ve ranted.

My posts are usually filled with a bit more in the way of roses and sunshine, I realize. I’m also aware that today’s particular line of thought may very well tick some people off. But consider whether what I am saying is true, not just whether it makes us feel bad to hear it.

I guess what it boils down to is a desire – not as “the little guy” but as just a plain guy – to see humans treating other humans with courtesy and respect just because, and not for any other reason. Am I crazy? Is this castle really so far in the sky?

No one can make time for everyone, especially as our sphere of influence increases. But we can always have an attitude of true humility. We can always treat others with dignity, as we ourselves would like to be treated (and as we, at some point, likely were treated, back when we were “the little guy”).

the little guy_tweetable

I’m still “the little guy” in many people’s eyes. But along with challenging us all to remember that our first estate is just a naked human being like everyone else, I am putting these thoughts in writing today as a way to make an unspoken pact a spoken one. That is, if ever I begin to see myself as better than “the little guy,” will someone please give me a good talking to – or even a timely kick in the pants. No matter where life takes me, it is my aim to remain “the little guy” in my estimation of myself and in my dealings with others.

I invite you to help me stay true to that goal.

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